Pakistan is standing on the threshold of history, for the first time in its turbulent existence an elected government, however corrupt and ineffectual, has completed its full term and general elections have been declared for May, 11, 2013, by President Asif Ali Zardari. In accordance with the constitution of the country a care taker government needs to be in place to oversee the elections; political parties are required to reach to a consensus candidate as caretaker Prime Minister through the medium of a parliamentary committee formed for the purpose. Predictably, the parliamentary committee could not reach to a consensus and the decision was left to be taken by the election commission. The name for Justice (retired) Mir Hazar Khoso was finalised after four members of the election commission voted in his favour while one member voted against. The result was declared by the chief election commissioner Justice (retired) Fakhruddin G Ibrahim thus crossing a major hurdle to the election process. Justice Khoso was the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP)’s second nominee; he retired as the chief justice of Balochistan.
A highly proactive Election Commission of Pakistan with a chief election commissioner who refuses to be cowed down is yet another positive indication in view of the fractured political landscape of the country. He has already reached out to millions of people through text messages on their cell phones exhorting them to come out and vote for their preferred candidates. In a unique show of activism akin to some of the erstwhile election commissioners of India, he has intends to investigate the backgrounds of those filing nomination papers to stand for the election. The investigation would include personal wealth, income tax returns, academic degrees, foreign junkets, dual nationalities and even performance as former legislators; it would also extend to their immediate families. Evidently, this move by the chief election commissioner is not going down well with the well-entrenched political lobby of the country whose candidature would be in jeopardy if the investigation is conducted. Most of the political leaders of Pakistan have not even filed their income tax returns in the last five years. How this drama plays out in the next few weeks will be of great interest; whatever the outcome, it is a positive development in the otherwise opaque and feudal political milieu of the nation.
The political environment of the nation is also getting heated up. Pervez Musharraf, the erstwhile military dictator of Pakistan, who has been on self-imposed exile in London and Dubai for the last nearly four years, has returned to the country on March, 24, 2013, despite the possibility of arrest and death threats from the Taliban. His fledgling political party, the All Party Muslim league, is also planning to join the electoral fray. This apart all other major parties like the PPP, Pakistan Muslim League factions (PML N & Q), Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf (PTI), Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), Awami National Party (ANP), Jamiat Ulama Islam (JUI) and Jamaat-e-Islami (JI), Difa-e-Pakistan Council (DPC) etc. are on the campaign trail.
There are mixed indications and opinions about the outcome of these historic polls. For one, the power that the religious blocs and other fringe political parties were exuding just about a year back seems to be on the wane. Fringe parties like the DPC, JUI and even the much touted PTI led by the cricket hero Imran Khan are struggling for acceptance and will probably go in for alliances with the larger parties to stay in relevance. Under these circumstances Pervez Musharraf seems to be living in a fool’s paradise.
It seems that the people will make a distinction between ideology and day-to-day issues. For the elections the people will be looking for candidates and parties that can provide solutions to their problems which are many, in fact, looking to be quite insurmountable at the moment. This should logically point toward the demise of the ruling PPP on grounds of anti-incumbency since the party and its allies have failed dismally on all fronts. The people, however, know that the second big party, Nawaz Sharifs PML (N), was also not the epitome of progress and enlightened governance during the few occasions that it was in power. The electoral scene, therefore, will be marked by a degree of cynicism and the tilt will remain a mystery till the end, there is every possibility of a hung assembly.
There are two facets in this entire scenario that are of interest to India; first, the process which is going on quite smoothly should not be derailed by the army at the last moment. There is a possibility of military intervention since the army may not be amenable to seeing some alliance that it is not comfortable with coming into power; also if the results are hung and coalitions do not come by the army may simply step in. The second point of interest for India is the degree of terrorist and militant activity that flows from across the border into Kashmir in the period when the caretaker government is in place. In case the flow is unabated it would become quite clear that it is not the government but other forces that are in charge of the terrorist activity directed towards India. The finger, in this case, would point towards the Pakistan Army, the Inter Services intelligence (ISI) and their adopted militant organisations like the Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Mohammad etc.
There are many other permutations and combinations that the developments in Pakistan will throw up in the run up to the elections. Only time will tell whether Pakistan is moving towards good times or bad; one can only hope that whatever happens is for the good of the people who have suffered enough over the last six plus decades due to a parochial and visionless leadership. A smooth transfer of power may be the first welcome step towards enduring democracy and progressive freedom.